Opinion: Housing crisis a health care emergency
- Michael Schwandt and Ryan Meili | October 13, 2015
A disturbing photo of five people sleeping in a Saskatoon bank lobby was recently printed in Saskatchewan newspapers. (See the photo here.)
An earlier photo contrasted the lush yards on the east side of the city's riverbank with tents in the bushes on the west side.
A few days later, the Saskatoon fire department discovered a makeshift living space under the closed Traffic Bridge.
of these disturbing images and events in one Saskatchewan city are part
of a larger narrative: despite a strong economy, Saskatchewan has a
deficit in access to safe and affordable housing.
Saskatchewan isn't alone: across Canada, an estimated 235,000 people -
many of them children - will experience homelessness in the course of a
year, with 35,000 homeless on any given night.
other Canadians are struggling to maintain the housing they have; in
2014, one in four paid more than 30 per cent of their household income
on housing. For these Canadians, the cost of their dwellings squeezed
out their ability to pay for other essentials.
The health impacts of homelessness and inadequate housing are already well known. A 2007 Wellesley Institute study
showed that homeless people in Toronto were 29 times more likely than
the general population to have Hepatitis C, 20 times more likely to have
epilepsy and twice as likely to have diabetes. Lack of shelter also
means exposure to the elements, with risk of heat stroke in summer and
hypothermia in winter, as well as violence and other risks.
safe food and clean water also become a challenge, and healthy social
and family dynamics all but impossible. Managing mental health issues,
addictions and other illnesses is improbable without a stable living
a result, hospitalization for unmanaged chronic medical conditions
rises, as do ambulance pickups to address emergencies. The cumulative
effect of these challenges has untold impact on individuals, and costs
the Canadian economy more than $7 billion a year.
illnesses and costs associated with homelessness can be prevented while
still providing safe, stable housing that will allow people an
opportunity to manage health issues, pursue education and employment,
and develop supportive family environments.
In Saskatoon, for example, a "Housing First"
pilot program spearheaded by the United Way provided housing to 10
local residents who have challenging health issues and social
circumstances. In only six months, the program saved nearly $700,000
through decreased ambulance trips, hospital visits, police calls and
reflecting the role of housing in both preventing and alleviating
poverty, the Saskatchewan government's advisory group on poverty
reduction recently released recommendations for a provincial strategy
that would include establishing a province-wide Housing First model and
strategies to increase affordable housing.
All levels of government have a role to play in making safe and affordable housing available to all.
well as the direct development of affordable housing, cities have a
variety of tools available to encourage and maintain such housing
options in their neighbourhoods.
there is potential for leadership on this issue and practical
initiatives such as earmarked funding for affordable housing. Canada
remains the only G-8 country without a national housing strategy.
people of Saskatoon have been rightly upset by recent pictures of
homelessness. Now is the time for all Canadians to demand action from
our political leaders so that we can instead become the picture of
Michael Schwandt is a Public health physician and Assistant Professor, Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, University of Saskatchewan. Ryan Meili is an expert advisor with EvidenceNetwork.ca, a practicing family physician in Saskatoon and founder of Upstream: Institute for A Healthy Society and Chair of Canadian Doctors for Medicare.
This article appeared courtesy of Troy Media.